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Nickel Allergy: Genetics, causes, natural solutions

Key takeaways:
~ Nickel allergy is very common and causes a rash after contact.
~ Systemic reactions can occur with foods higher in nickel, causing gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and eczema.
~ Genes play a role in susceptibility to nickel allergy.
~ A couple of natural supplements may help with reactions.

Members will see their genotype report below, plus additional solutions in the Lifehacks section. Consider joining today

Nickel Allergies: Genetics, Symptoms, Foods

Nickel allergy is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis (rash). It is estimated that 8 – 20% of people are sensitive to nickel.[ref][ref]

However, nickel allergies can go beyond just getting a rash from your watch or bracelet. A systemic or internal response to certain foods that contain nickel is also possible.

What is a nickel allergy?

While genetic susceptibility plays a role (covered in the genotype report below), nickel allergy is caused by exposure to nickel, often for a long period of time.

Nickel can be found in:[ref]

  • fashion jewelry
  • watches or fitness trackers
  • piercings
  • clothing decorations or fasteners
  • eyeglasses
  • medical devices, such as orthopedics
  • orthodontics
  • cosmetics
  • tools
  • bathroom fixtures
  • mobile phones
  • keys, coins

Non-workplace contacts like piercing the ear with a regular needle and wearing fashion jewelry are more likely to cause sensitization in women.[ref]

Sweat can leach the nickel from metal alloys, such as stainless steel. Skin piercings and other nickel-containing exposures can cause those who are vulnerable to develop nickel sensitivity.[ref]

Additionally, nickel is a common component in many orthodontic materials, and nickel allergy is common in people with tongue or lip piercings.[ref]

Symptoms of nickel allergies: Skin Rash

Classic symptoms of nickel sensitivity include an itchy rash where your skin contacts the nickel. This can be termed eczema or contact dermatitis. Other skin reactions can include vitiligo-like lesions, small raised bumps that form a ring, small blister clusters, cracked skin, and even vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels).[ref]

Systemic nickel allergy syndrome (SNAS):

Systemic symptoms of nickel allergy can include respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms from eating foods that contain nickel (or an implanted device that contains nickel).[ref]

For example, someone with a nickel allergy may end up with nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue. Neurological symptoms include headaches and brain fog.[ref]

A mouth sore called oral lichenoid lesions is linked to higher-than-normal concentrations of nickel.[ref]

Foods to avoid because they cross-react with Nickel Allergies

Nickel is found in trace amounts in the soils, and plants can take up nickel through their roots. This means that plants can contain nickel, which can then cause systemic nickel allergy syndrome symptoms.

On average, we consume 300-600 μg of nickel per day. For someone very sensitive to nickel, the top end of this range could cause symptoms such as eczema.[ref]

If you have a nickel allergy, you may also be sensitive to certain foods that contain nickel or other metals that cross-react with nickel.[ref][ref] Some of the foods that can cross-react with nickel allergies include:[ref][ref]

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, instant
  • Tea, instant
  • Soybeans
  • Whole grains
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Lentils

These foods contain varying levels of nickel, and some people with nickel allergies may not experience any symptoms from eating them. However, for some people, consuming these foods can trigger a reaction similar to nickel allergy symptoms, such as a rash or itching in the mouth, throat, or skin.

Response to nickel:

So what happens when soluble nickel is taken into a cell? Nickel causes the cell to increase inflammation and oxidative stress. This can lead to cell death at higher levels. The Nrf2 pathway is essential in the response to oxidative stress, and researchers have found that Nrf2 is upregulated with nickel exposure.[ref]

Another study looked at inflammation over the course of three days after exposure using skin biopsies in nickel allergy patients. The researchers found that natural killer cells are upregulated, and memory T cells are activated. The response was not immediate and built over a couple of days.[ref]

Nickel Allergy Genotype Report:

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Lifehacks: Natural Treatments for Nickel Allergy

First and foremost – avoid contact with nickel-containing items such as earrings, piercings, watches, and jewelry.

If you wear glasses, make sure they don’t contain nickel in any parts against your skin. If your phone is metal, use a plastic or silicone case.

Nickel test kits are available to see if your cookware or jewelry contains nickel.

The rest of this article is for Genetic Lifehacks members only.  Consider joining today to see the rest of this article.

Member Content:

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Why join Genetic Lifehacks?

~ Membership supports Genetic Lifehack's goal of explaining the latest health and genetics research.
~ It gives you access to the full article, including the Genotype and Lifehacks sections.
~ You'll see your genetic data in the articles and reports.

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Related Articles and Topics:

Genetics and Food Allergies
Do you have a food allergy? Discover how environmental factors and genetic susceptibility can shape individual reactions.

Histamine Intolerance: Understanding Your Genetics and Managing Symptoms
Genetics plays a big role in how well your body breaks down histamine. You can use your genetic data to figure out if your genes are part of the reason why you have histamine intolerance.

Mast cells: Mast cell activation syndrome, genetics, and solutions
Mast cells are essential to your innate immune system, defending against pathogens and allergens. For some people, mast cells can be triggered too easily, giving allergy-like responses to lots of different substances.

Nrf2 Pathway: Increasing the body’s ability to get rid of toxins
The Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor) signaling pathway regulates the expression of antioxidants and phase II detoxification enzymes. It is a fundamental pathway important in how well your body functions. Your genetic variants in the NFE2L2 gene impact this NRF2 pathway.



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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.